When I was a kid, the Disney Princess phenomenon hadn't struck,
but I did have a favorite princess: Belle. I liked her for our
similarities - we were both bookish and brunette - and her
admirable attributes - independent, kind-hearted and, yes,
So it comes as little surprise that Broadway in Chicago's
performance of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which is kicking off
a six-week run at the Oriental Theatre, utterly charmed this
And it's a good bet your little princess will come away equally
The tale of the beautiful bookworm who falls in love with her
captor, a prince-turned-beast, is well-known. But in the first half
of the stage show, the love story at the heart of the narrative
seems almost incidental to the rest of the plot, as the audience
enjoys the singing and dancing of the townspeople and spirited
Gaston (Logan Denninghoff) steals the show as the cocky
musclehead with his sights set on Belle; he and sycophantic
sidekick LeFou (Andrew Kruep) get all the best lines and receive an
enthusiastic ovation for "Gaston."
That enthusiasm is only matched by the response to signature
song "Be Our Guest," in which various household objects put on a
spectacular show, complete with kick-lines and confetti. It might
be bit strange to see a grown man singing and dancing while dressed
as a candelabra, but it adds whimsy and your feet will be tapping
For the more starry-eyed among us, the chemistry between Belle
(Emily Behny) and the Beast (Dane Agostinis) really picks up in Act
II, culminating in housekeeper-turned-teapot Mrs. Potts' (Julia
Louise Hosack) rendition of the title song.
The entire show is staged in candy-colored hues, serving as a
reminder that a cartoon is its source material. That transition
from animation to live action has the effect of making everything
seem more real, which means that the flirtation between Lumiere
(Michael Haller) and Babette (Erin Coors) and the Beast's initial
violence toward Belle feel a little more adult than in the original
version. And the final battle scene between Gaston and the Beast
may be more intense than the littlest audience members can handle,
although it's staged behind a screen to make it less vivid.
But the live action also means that several aspects are more
magical than the animated version. The final transformation scene
still has me wondering exactly how they did it.
And the music from the 1991 movie by Alan Menken and lyricist
Howard Ashman seamlessly blend with more stage-quality tunes by
Menken and lyricist Tim Rice. Emily Behny shines with a lovely,
girl-next-door style that perfectly fits Belle's character.
Throughout the show, I was struck by the joy of the entire
production, and found myself grinning. The show truly is for all
ages, from the little girl decked out in Belle regalia on up. Small
voices join in laughing and cheering, even for the puns that
probably go over their heads. And the plot could lead to some good
discussions about judging people based on their appearance or
excluding those who seem different.
For those who already love the animated movie, Disney's Beauty
and the Beast show serves as a perfect entry into the world of
Broadway. And it even inspired me to go home and dig out my CD of
the Broadway soundtrack from back in 1994 - and may cause me to pop
the movie in for a walk down memory lane.
It seems that the tale of "Beauty and the Beast" is as ageless
as it is timeless.
Elizabeth Diffin is the senior editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.
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